An arraignment is a court meeting where you are given written notice about any charges you are facing. The arraignment should take place within 48 hours of being brought to jail. The judge will read you the charges in full.
After being read the charges, you must decide how to plead. You will need to enter your plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest at the arraignment, and the judge will set bail.
Some states call this meeting the initial court appearance.
- An arraignment informs a defendant of the official charges.
- The initial arraignment is typically your first appearance in court unless you have a preliminary hearing or bail hearing.
- The judge can legally withhold bail but they can’t make bail an unreasonably high amount.
- In some cases, you may have bail set at a bail hearing instead of the arraignment.
All criminal procedures follow an arraignment process that protects a defendant’s rights in the Sixth Amendment. These Constitutional rights promise you:
- A public and speedy trial
- An impartial jury to hear the criminal case
- Criminal proceedings in the same city as the crime
- The ability to clearly understand why the courts want to prosecute you — this is called the charging document
You have the right to counsel and to be assigned a public defender if you do not hire your own criminal defense attorney.
The arraignment court appearance will help determine the date for your trial based on how you plead. You have three options:
- A “nolo contendere” or “no contest” plea means you accept the criminal charges but don’t think you are guilty. Your case will not go to trial.
- A not guilty plea means you will fight the charges and go to trial with a criminal defense attorney.
- A guilty plea means you accept the charges and admit guilt. You will not go to trial but may be able to get a lighter sentence for cooperating.
You are not bound by a not guilty plea. Depending on discussions with your criminal defense lawyer and the prosecution, you can later change your plea to guilty, for example as part of a plea bargain.
A preliminary hearing is not the same thing as an arraignment. A judge will have a preliminary hearing to hear the evidence and decide if the prosecution has enough evidence to continue. A judge can dismiss the case if it lacks probable cause that you committed a crime. It is rare that a judge will dismiss the case at this stage, however.
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